Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Many Benefits of Honey

Honey is an amazing substance – especially when you consider how it is made by bees. It is a complex mixture of sugar, trace enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and amino acids.  Honey has many health benefits when used in moderation (assuming you're healthy).

Honey Production Process

It takes about over 50,000 bees traveling up to 50,000 miles and visiting up to 2 million flowers, to gather enough nectar to make one pound of honey!  Bees stores the nectar in their extra stomach where it mixes with enzymes, and then the bees pass the nectar  to another bee's mouth. 

This process is repeated until the nectar becomes digested and is then deposited into a honeycomb where it becomes honey after the bees fan it with their wings to evaporate some of the liquid it contains.   The bees then seal the honey comb with secretions from their abdomen.   In this way honey can be stored almost indefinitely as it is sealed away from air and water.

Honey is infused with many chemicals from the different flowers bees visit which accounts for the extremely wide variation in color and taste of different honeys collected in different regions.

Health Benefits of Honey

Honey is excellent cough medicine, and research has proven that honey works as well as dextromethorphan, a common ingredient in over the counter cough medications.

Honey can treat wounds and was commonly used to prevent and treat wound infections until the advent of antibiotics.   Today it is being used again more and more as research shows it can be an extremely potent and safe way to treat serious skin infections.    One specific type of honey – Manuka Honey – is specifically used for creating wound and burn dressings.

Manuka honey is made from the flowers of the Manuka bush, and research have shown that Manuka honey is effective in combatting more than 200 clinical strains of bacteria, including anti-biotic resistance strains such as:

◦ MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)

◦ MSSA (methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus)

◦ VRE (vancomycin-resistant enterococci)

Honey releases hydrogen peroxide through an enzymatic process, which explains its general antiseptic qualities, but Manuka honey contains and unknown unique factor that makes it far superior to other types of honey when it comes to killing off bacteria.

Even so, research shows that any type of unprocessed honey helps wounds and ulcers heal.

Honey Is Great for Your Scalp: Honey diluted with a bit of warm water can significantly improve seborrheic dermatitis, dandruff and itching.

Honey is a Great Energy Booster: Honey is a great energy booster before a workout, and this is particularly true for athletes.

Honey Can Safely Dramatically Reduce Allergy Symptoms: Local honey, which contains a wide variety of pollen from local plants, introduces a small amount of allergen into your system. This can act like an allergy shot and gradually condition your immune system to stop reacting to allergens.
Dosage is a teaspoon-full of locally produced honey per day, starting a few months PRIOR to the pollen season, to allow your system to build up immunity.

One study on local honey and allergy showed that, during birch pollen season, compared to the control group, the patients using birch pollen honey experienced:

◦ 60 percent reduction in symptoms

◦ Twice as many asymptomatic days

◦ 70 percent fewer days with severe symptoms

◦ 50 percent decrease in usage of antihistamines

Honey can Combat Herpes

Honey helps fight herpes sores by:

• Drawing fluid away from the sores

• Suppresses microorganism growth

Honey may help fight cancer by limiting certain cancer cell proliferation, inducing cancer cell death and inhibiting tumor growth. It's been shown to lower the risk for cancer of the skin, cervix, colon, prostate and breast, among others.

Honey has been shown to have anxiety reducing, anti-depressant, anti-convulsant and anti-pain properties.

Using High Quality Honey is Important!

The antibacterial activity in some honey is 100 times more potent than in others, while processed refined honey will lack many of these beneficial properties altogether. Most honey found in your grocery store is probably highly processed.

The best honey is unprocessed, and a great source is locally produced raw honey purchased directly from a beekeeper, farmers markets, co-ops, and natural stores like Trader Joe's. When choosing honey, be sure it is raw, unfiltered, and 100% pure, from a trusted source.

Honey Should Be Consumed in Moderation

Honey is high in fructose. Each teaspoon of honey has nearly four grams of fructose, which means it can be inappropriate for anyone with diabetes and too much can make pre-existing insulin resistance worse.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Why People Eat Too Much

We all know that eating too much food, and particularly unhealthy food, is bad for us.    At the same time so many people find it very difficult to stop.    At the end of the day hunger is much more complicated than it might seem, and hunger is all about your brain.   Most importantly learning how hunger is controlled by your brain can help you take back control!

Behind all your decision making there are physiological forces at work.     Let’s take a look at how our brains drive food choices and how this leads to weight gain.

There are two types of hunger and associated eating:

Physiological hunger aka homeostatic eating – this is hunger and eating to provide our body the energy it needs and to stay in balance aka homeostasis.

Hedonic craving and eating – this is eating for pleasure or to deal with our emotional state

Most of the time we eat there is a contribution from both areas in that there are physiological mechanisms driving our hunger while at the same time we crave certain foods.  There are many factors that drive hunger including but not limited to:

Our genetic background
Time of Day
            Social Cues
            Emotional state
            Environmental Factors
            Macronutrient Ratios of our meals
Hunger can be very complex and science is just starting to figure it out.  What we do know a lot more about is why we stop eating.      One reason is satiation – that feeling of being full from eating, and another reason is satiety (not the same thing!).   Satiety is your feeling of satisfaction associated with a reduced interest in food.

When we eat there are two big physiological factors that tell us to stop eating:

Gastric Distension – which is your stomach telling your brain it is being stretched.   This signal is sent to your brain via the vagus nerve which goes from your core to your brain.   This is why eating higher fiber foods and foods with more bulk but less calories can help to control physiological hunger by signaling the brain through the distension of the stomach.

Hormones – when you eat your gut communicates with your brain using hormones including:

Cholecystokinin or CCK for short – when you consume protein and fat your gut releases CCK (again through the vagus nerve) to tell your brain to stop eating.

GLP-1 and Amylin – GLP-1 simulates the production and release of insulin which is very important for hunger.   It also slows down food moving from the stomach into the small intestine.   Amylin is another hormone proven to help reduce food intake.

Insulin – is secreted in response to protein and non-fiber carbohydrates including all sugars and starches but not by fat.    When the body is in proper balance it also tells us to stop eating.   HOWEVER, if we do not exercise at all and overeat (particularly if our diet is very high in sugar and starches and low in fiber) our cells become resistant to insulin.     This can snowball into full-blow Adult Onset Diabetes with serious health consequences.

Leptin – helps manage your long-term energy and nutrient needs through a feedback loop.   Leptin is released by fat tissue and how much excess energy (in the form of fat) we have stored.     The more bodyfat we have the more leptin that gets dumped into our blood.

When things work properly and leptin signals go up, it signals the brain that we have plenty of energy and brings hunger down.    Conversely as fat stores get lower (particularly if they get very low) the lack of leptin tells the brain we need to eat.  

The brain also responds to lower leptin levels by limiting our movement.   We literally move less – we tend to sit instead of stand and stop fidgeting.     The couch calls to us!   So we burn fewer calories through activity and our metabolic rate slows down through a process called metabolic adaptation.      This is what allowed humans to survive long periods with low food intake and periods of famine.

The leptin feedback loop works well for most people, but there are genetic differences in how our body secretes and responds to Leptin.   In addition, the food choices we make can seriously derail this important control mechanism!

Super palatable foods that are heavily processed can overwhelm the leptin feedback loop resulting in a lot of overeating.    This includes foods with high levels of sugar, salt, and certain additives such as MSG which are hyper-stimulating to our entire digestive system.    If these are the foods you eat regularly, your brain can become resistant to Leptin much in the same way that too much sugar and starch and no activity can make your cells resistant to the effects of insulin.

There are also certain foods that a generate a strong reward response in the brain such as coffee and alcoholic beverages.   While we initially may hate the taste of these items, our brains learn to crave them which can completely disrupt the leptin and insulin feedback loops that normally work to control our appetite.

So What Should You Do? 

The take home message is that super tasty and super rewarding foods are a dangerous combination!   These types of foods are not found in nature and are a product of our modern food industry and culture.   By making foods salty, sweet, starch and fatty then adding in special flavors and scents food companies are designing foods to make us overeat.

At the end of the day you have to cut these foods out and go through a short-period of withdrawal to allow your body’s innate regulatory mechanisms to kick back into place. 

By making proper food choice and exercising we can gain a high level of control of these physiological mechanisms and our physiological hunger.   Here at the keys:

Eat more whole, fresh, unprocessed foods such as lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy.

Eat more fruits and vegetables!  Strive for at least 5 servings per day!

Eat more slow digesting, high fiber foods such as whole grains, potatoes and yams, beans, asparagus, broccoli, etc.

Eat more nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut, and fatty fish for your fats.

Eat slowly and mindfully to give you brain time to get the right messages from your gut.

Eat less processed foods

If you stick to these food choices for a month or more you will start to notice your hunger and craving for certain unhealthy foods starts to go down as your body’s regulatory processes get back on track!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Wonderful Watermelon

Watermelon is a summertime favorite across America, but it does not just taste great – it is great for you!  It is a cousin of cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash.   

One of the reasons watermelon is beneficial is that it contains a high quantity of lycopene which is a powerful plant chemical that gives watermelon its red color like tomatoes (another source of lycopene).     Lycopene is a potent antioxidant, and watermelon contains 1.5 times more lycopene than tomato which is the more commonly known source of lycopene.

Lycopene is a carotenoid, similar in structure to beta-carotene associated with carrots.   However, lycopene is much more potent than beta-carotene and provides many unique benefits.   In one study, men with the highest plasma levels of lycopene were 55 percent less likely to have a stroke than those with the lowest levels.

Lycopene Fights Cancer
Scientists at the University of Portsmouth showed that lycopene slows the growth of breast and prostate cancer by interfering with signaling pathways that facilitate tumor growth.    Lycopene also slows the growth of renal cell cancer and helps prevent the cancer from occurring in the first place.   Lycopene has also been shown to work to combat the negative effects of HPV infection (Human Papilloma Virus) which is the cause of cervical cancers, uterine cancer, and certain throat cancers.    

Lycopene and Eye Health
Lycopene protects eyes from oxidative stress which causes many eye diseases.   Lycopene is one of the strongest eye nutrients you can consume.     It may even have the capacity to delay or even prevent cataracts.  Through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, lycopene can help slow or stop processes that lead to macular degeneration.

Lycopene Reduces Neuropathic Pain
Neuropathic pain is pain from nerve damage often accompanied by tissue damage.   It has many causes including diabetes and injuries.   Pain can be severe and difficult to treat.     Lycopene has been shown to safely reduce diabetic neuropathy in a study published in the European Journal of Pain.

Lycopene and Heart Health
Lycopene can help prevent high blood pressure and coronary heart disease.

In addition to lycopene watermelon contains l-citrulline – particularly if you eat/juice the rind that has the highest amounts.      L-citrulline is an amino acid that is converted into l-arginine in the kidneys.   Through this process it helps boost levels of Nitric Oxide (NO) which is very important for circulation and through this process can help reduce blood pressure and treat erectile dysfunction.   In fact, citrulline supplementation has been shown to improve erectile function in men.   

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Power of Keystone Habits

Everyone has habits, and understanding them is key to changing bad habits to good ones (see this previous blogpost to understand how habits are formed and the ONLY way to change them: )   

All good habits are not equal – certain habits have a much bigger positive effects than others.     These “super” habits are called Keystone Habits, and if you are looking to adopt a single habit that will have the biggest positive impact on your life consider one of the keystone habits described below.

Although on the surface keystone habits share a lot with any other habits the difference is that keystone habits tend to have a domino effect and act as a positive catalyst for change in other areas of your life.   Keystone habits help create and maintain other good habits.

So what makes a habit a keystone habit?    Charles Duhigg, author of the definitive book on habits – The Power of Habit, says that keystone habits actually change how we see ourselves – “When researchers look at how people change their habitual behaviors, they find when some changes occur, it seems to set off a chain reaction that causes other patterns to change as well.     The power of a keystone habit draws from its ability to change your self-image.”

Exercise – The KING of Keystone Habits!

For many people exercise is THE keystone habit because when they develop the habit of exercising consistently they tend to naturally make better easting choices, stop procrastinating, etc.    This happens because exercising regularly helps you create a positive self-image – which is that of someone who is healthy!

By adopting habits, like exercise, that create a positive self-image, we begin to subconsciously encourage ourselves to reinforce that new self-image by adopting other positive behaviors.   This is VERY powerful!

Other Keystone Habits

Meditation – there are many forms of meditation but people who make meditation a habit often find that it is catalyst for overall positive change in their life.   Research supports this belief – there is a huge body of scientific research showing all sorts of physical and mental benefits from the simple practice of meditation!

Reading – if you adopt a regular habit of reading you constantly learn and grow and help maintain mental flexibility while aging along with having the ability to travel to distant worlds, escape to a better place, and in general have access to endless entertainment and fun!   Many people describe the action of developing a reading habit as being the single most important factor in their later success and happiness!

Writing – as a means of self- expression and creativity - writing is amazing.   A regular writing practice helps order your thoughts and mind and share ideas with others!   Like the other keystone habits this practice often faciitates positive and lasting change!

Socializing – Humans are social animals and we need and crave social contact.     This is particularly true as we age.      Developing a social group/habit is absolutely key to happiness for most people.      And who you socialize with has huge impact on your opinions and habits – be they good or bad.

There are many other habits that can become keystone habits for you.  To identify keystone habits, look for habits that have that domino effect in your life, and help change your self-image for the better by participating in the habit.    Pay attention to how you feel as you perform regular actions and activities in your life and when you notice you feel better about yourself when you do something it is quite likely that this is keystone habit for you!